The best course designers of modern and bygone eras have made their marks all over Southwest Florida. Even though the term “elevation” is a comical misnomer for this coastal region, that hasn’t kept architects from creating plenty of uneven lies to test your game. To wit: the nearly 60-foot-high tee box and accompanying formations engineered into acclaimed Calusa Pines Golf Club in Naples.
Thanks to the golf course—and real estate—building boom of the 1980s, ’90s, and early part of the 2000s, Southwest Florida for years has been able to claim No. 1 status in the nation for golf holes per capita. With some communities featuring two and, in some cases, three 18-hole courses, Lee and Collier counties together boast well more than 150 courses.
The majority of the links are private, though many open their doors to the public during the summer and outside of the prime winter months—when the local population mushrooms with seasonal residents and the links are in high demand. Many communities also have healthy reciprocal programs with other clubs. If you’re not a member or homeowner in a community club, you might want to make nice with someone who is to expand your opportunities to experience great golf.
Here are some of Southwest Florida’s best courses, including some that take outside play:
Calusa Pines Golf Club
- Where: 2000 Calusa Pines Drive, Naples
- Par/yardage: 72/7,267
- Designers: Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry
- Of note: Calusa Pines is routinely Southwest Florida’s top-ranked course on various national course lists. It is unforgettable partly for its 185-yard, par-3 sixteenth hole, which plays from an elevated tee box that is colloquially dubbed the highest point in Collier County. This very private course is celebrated for its impeccable design and conditions, as well as its idyllic setting free of any homes on or around the property.
Lely Resort (Flamingo Island)
- Where: 8004 Lely Resort Blvd., Naples
- Par/yardage: 72/7,095
- Designer: Robert Trent Jones Sr.
- Of note: The oldest of three courses in Lely Resort—and one of two open to the public—Flamingo Island has been named a Top 50 Resort Course by Golf World The course, which opened in 1989, is the more challenging of the two public-play courses. The second is the more welcoming Mustang course, designed by Lee Trevino. The private Classics course, designed by Gary Player, was host to the PGA Tour Champions Chubb Classic in 2019.
Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club
- Where: 851 Gulf Shore Blvd. N., Naples
- Par/yardage: 71/6,929
- Designers (2016): Jack Nicklaus and John Sanford
- Of note: In 2016, Nicklaus and Sanford redesigned this historic course, part of Southwest Florida’s only beachfront resort, with an on-site championship layout. The course, which dates back to the 1940s, is where then-11-year-old Nicklaus broke 40 on nine holes for the first time in his life, playing with his father on a family vacation in 1951.
Naples National Golf Club
- Where: 9325 Collier Blvd., Naples
- Par/yardage: 72/7,045
- Designers: Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry
- Of note: A private course devoid of homes and known for its meticulously manicured grounds, Naples National also draws national acclaim for an artful design that incorporates natural topography. Playing surfaces blend delicately with waste areas and mature stands of pine and cypress trees. The annual Terra Cotta Invitational is a premier national amateur tournament.
Panther Run Golf Club
- Where: 6005 Anthem Pkwy., Ave Maria
- Par/yardage: 72/7,532
- Designer: Gordon Lewis
- Of note: Courses that welcome the public in Collier County aren’t the easiest to find, making this semi-private course worth the drive to rural Ave Maria for multiple reasons. With ample former agricultural land to work with, Lewis made sure to include all the length anyone could need. He also had fun with the design, throwing in elements such as a classic “Redan” green—sloping away from the entrance—to augment excellent conditioning and amenities.
- Where: 8950 Weathered Stone Drive, Naples
- Par/yardage: 72/7,316
- Designers: Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry
- Of note: An old limestone rock quarry makes a spectacular visual setting around which to build a golf course. A saltwater-tolerant turf grass, known as paspalum, also offers environmental benefits and is just as inviting as Bermuda. Look into the reciprocal program for this private course.
Tiburón Golf Club
- Where: 2620 Tiburón Drive, Naples
- Par/yardage: 72/7,382 (Gold Course), 72/6,949 (Black Course)
- Designer: Greg Norman
- Of note: Both courses are part of The Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort but do take outside play. The longer Gold Course is home to the LPGA Tour’s CME Group Tour Championship and Norman’s 24-player QBE Shootout PGA Tour team event. But the Black Course may be tougher, with more forced carries and tighter lines on equally firm, fast fairways.
TPC Treviso Bay
- Where: 9800 Treviso Bay Blvd., Naples
- Par/yardage: 72/7,367
- Designers: Arthur Hills and Hal Sutton
- Of note: Part of the PGA Tour’s network of Tournament Players Club courses, Treviso Bay was built with capacity to host professional golfers in mind. A members’ course also open to outside play, Treviso Bay is lined with a Hills signature design element: endless humps, bumps, and nobs that frame the fairways and guard the green complexes.
TwinEagles (Talon Course)
- Where: 11330 Twineagles Blvd., Naples
- Par/yardage: 72/7,193 (Talon Course), 71/7,634 (Eagle Course)
- Designers: Jack Nicklaus and Jack Nicklaus II (Talon), Steve Smyers and Patrick Andrews (Eagle)
- Of note: Perhaps the best-liked course in Southwest Florida among PGA Tour veterans themselves, the Talon Course has hosted the 50-and-over tour’s Chubb Classic the most times (12) in its 32 installments in Collier County. TwinEagles also has a second course, the 7,634-yard Eagle Course, and Dr. Jim Suttie’s Golf Academy.
Valencia Golf & Country Club
- Where: 1725 Double Eagle Trail, Naples
- Par/yardage: 72/7,145
- Designers: Gordon Lewis (Drew Rogers, 2018)
- Of note: Even rarer than courses open to the public in Naples are daily-fee facilities. Renovated in 2018, Valencia is inviting, affordable, well-maintained, and as hard as you want it to be from different lengths. Ample practice grounds are another attraction.
Coral Oaks Golf Course
- Where: 1800 Northwest 28th Ave., Cape Coral
- Par/yardage: 72/6,623
- Designer: Arthur Hills
- Of note: Don’t overlook this municipal course just because it doesn’t have the deep superintendent budget of its private cousins. The course, which opened in 1988, is well-maintained and well-designed. And unlike many of its restricted-access peers, it wasn’t laid between vast swaths of homes to maximize real-estate views.
Cypress Lake Country Club
- Where: 6767 Winkler Road, Fort Myers
- Par/yardage: 72/7,032
- Designers: Dick Wilson (Ron Garl, 2001)
- Of note: Established in 1959 in an area once widely known for its acres of gladiolus fields, Cypress Lake underwent a major renovation in 2001. But it maintained the original character from one of the most prominent architects of his era. Late LPGA Tour founding member Patty Berg was a founding member of the private course that features no homes within its boundaries and is still walkable.
Eastwood Golf Course
- Where: 4600 Bruce Herd Ln., Fort Myers
- Par/yardage: 72/7,129
- Designers: Robert Von Hagge and Bruce Devlin
- Of note: One of two municipal courses in Fort Myers, Eastwood was ranked among Golf Digest’s top 100 public facilities in the U.S. after its opening 1977, until a star designation system was implemented in 1996 due to the overwhelming growth of public courses. It’s still a great place to play and, without homes on the property, a fun afternoon. Ample practice areas are an added draw.
Fiddlesticks Country Club (Long Mean)
- Where: 15391 Canongate Drive, Fort Myers
- Par/yardage: 72/7,077
- Designer: Ron Garl
- Of note: The harder of Fiddlesticks’ two original courses has long been known as one of the best in Southwest Florida—if you get on. After opening in 1983, the private course was renovated in 2005 by its original designer, Ron Garl, and has maintained its elite and coveted appeal. The second course, the former Wee Friendly, was just renovated to 6,645 yards and renamed Loch Ness thanks in part to newly created lakes and inlets.
Fort Myers Country Club
- Where: 3591 McGregor Blvd., Fort Myers
- Par/yardage: 70/6,780
- Designers: Donald Ross (Steve Smyers, 2014)
- Of note: Southwest Florida’s oldest course, by far, was built in 1917, an era when American golf architecture royalty Donald Ross laid tracks down all across the state. The municipal course still belongs to the city, welcomes walkers, has no homes inside its boundaries, and was given a major upgrade and renovation in 2014. Some hole lengths were changed to modernize them, but “The Fort” retained Ross’ classic domed greens and short-game demands. The annual Yuengling Open, with no gallery ropes and a nice list of champions going back more than 50 years, is a local favorite.
- Where: 3501 Avenida Del Vera, North Fort Myers
- Par/yardage: 72/7,265
- Designer: Gordon Lewis
- Of note: Southwest Florida’s most-prolific course architect doesn’t get the credit he deserves thanks partly to a high number of designs sometimes constricted by real estate demands. But this immaculate, semi-private layout—which opened in 2007 at the end of a course construction boom—is a fun, fast run addition to the Naples designer’s roster.
Old Corkscrew Golf Club
- Where: 17320 Corkscrew Rd., Estero
- Par/yardage: 72/7,393
- Designer: Jack Nicklaus
- Of note: This beautiful, remote, nationally ranked course can always be counted on to leave competitors shaking their heads at its difficulty. That’s even when it’s regularly hosting highly skilled players in USGA and FSGA events. The fairways have tons of run and the massive greens are misleadingly punitive because of how undulating and segmented they are, à la the beloved Augusta National. The good news: the course takes outside play, so bring your best.
Raptor Bay Golf Club
- Where: 23001 Coconut Point Resort Drive, Bonita Springs
- Par/yardage: 71/6,461
- Designer: Raymond Floyd
- Of note: Paired with the adjacent Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort and Spa overlooking Estero Bay, Raptor Bay takes public play and is a very friendly resort course. Welcoming fairways and massive green complexes—British Open style that you can bump and run or play on the ground from well off the green—help keep frustration levels low and the pace enjoyable. Excellent conditions, great practice areas, and magnificent, near-shore ecology provide even more reason to visit.
River Hall Country Club
- Where: 3500 River Hall Pkwy., Alva
- Par/yardage: 72/7,124
- Designer: Davis Love III
- Of note: Love embraced the gimmick-free style of golf course architecture icons C.B. Macdonald, Donald Ross, Seth Raynor, and others from a century ago in designing this course. Great conditions and a great setting in rural Alva combine to make this one of the area’s must-visit semi-private courses.
Verandah Golf Club (Old Orange)
- Where: 12201 River Village Way, Fort Myers
- Par/yardage: 72/7,118
- Designer: Bob Cupp
- Of note: Beautiful but challenging, this picturesque layout offers views of the Orange River throughout. Massive live oak trees, dripping with Spanish moss, further set the scene for a pastoral afternoon on a special piece of property. It’s high praise that Verandah’s second course, the 7,214-yard Whispering Oak, is just as well-regarded but still draws second notice despite its esteemed architects: Jack Nicklaus and his son, Jack II.